Prosecutors in Wisconsin singled out Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Carli McNeill as a top young lawyer in the state.

McNeill, 33, received the Rising Star award from the Wisconsin District Attorney Association last week, the award given annually to one lawyer chosen by peers as the most promising young or mid-experience prosecutor in the state.

For the understated McNeill, the award is an honor, but also makes her a bit uncomfortable.

She said as a prosecutor at the Kenosha County District Attorney’s office, she feels she is part of a team that includes not just all the other lawyers in the office, but the victim-witness coordinators and assistants who work in support roles.

“I know how much I lean on other people to do the work I do,” McNeill said. “To the extent that I have been able to do good work at all is because of the huge amount of time other prosecutors invested in me.”

McNeill has a lot of experience being a team player.

She grew up in Bristol and Wheatland, attending Bristol Grade School and Central High School. From the age of 9, much of her life outside of school was dedicated to playing competitive women’s ice hockey.

“My mother was a figure skater and wanted us to skate. I said I would only learn to skate if I played hockey,” she said. “I insisted on hockey until they caved.”

When it was time to attend college, she chose Union College in New York because the small liberal arts college had a new Division I women’s hockey team.

“I played there for four years,” McNeill said. “I loved it. I loved being able to compete at the highest levels.”

After graduating from Union, she attended law school at the University of Notre Dame.

Believes in teamwork

District Attorney Michael Graveley, who nominated McNeill, said he thinks McNeill’s past as a college athlete is part of what makes her good at her job.

“She is the ultimate believer in teamwork. She is the first to volunteer for any project, anything that assists the mission here, which is to do justice and keep people safe. She’s not just kind of in; she’s all in. And there is absolute consistency to that.”

He said she also internalized an athlete’s attention to consistent practice.

“She’s one of those people who has understood that idea of incremental progress,” he said, saying that McNeill wasn’t initially at ease speaking to a jury, but has become a strong communicator through practice and preparation. “She was probably not a natural at this job; she made herself someone who is outstanding at it.”

Pursuing a mission

McNeill said she was attracted to criminal law because she wanted a career with a mission. She came to the Kenosha County District Attorney’s office as an intern after graduating from law school in 2010 and joined the staff in 2011.

She also teaches in the criminal justice department at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Although she went away for school, she said has been happy to return to where she grew up to serve the community.

“I am from here. I got a great education here. I care about what we do here as a district attorney’s office not just because I work here, but because it is about the safety of my community.”

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